I used to ride a bicycle event in the Carolinas called The Assault on Mount Mitchell. The event is a lottery only ride, so in order to participate one has to sign up, then wait to see if you get a ticket for the ride. There are reasons for limiting the number of participants — road congestion on the Blue Ridge Parkway, transportation from the summit back to the starting point, making sure all participants are accounted for on the difficult and demanding ride. All riders wear a chipped ankle bracelet which records the time from start to finish and confirms that the rider has finished. I miss the event, one I completed twice out of the three times attempted. Each attempt is a story in itself, with challenges both similar and unique to the other attempts.
The Assault, at least when I used to ride it, was in May, early in the riding season and difficult for a northern USA flatlander such as myself to train for. That just made surviving the ride even more special when I did finish. There is more than 10,000 feet of vertical ascent over the 102 mile course, most of it at the last part of the ride, the last eight miles usually completed in the freezing cold and rain, on a grade that feels like it is practically straight up. That part of the ride, the summit, is actually above the clouds.
I think that I ride tours like the Assault for the memories that remind me of who I am. Each memory blends with pain, persistence, and incredible joy — joy that can only be experienced by accepting the pain. Even on the ride that I couldn’t complete, the ride where I sat in the middle of the road five miles from the summit, mentally fried, freezing water rushing past me as the rain poured down, I relish the memory. I learned a lot from that defeat, proud that I made it as far as I made it, even more proud that I learned a little more about overcoming my pain that day. The following years, instead of dropping to the road in resignation, I got back on the bike and kept the pedals turning until I reached the goal.
That’s the key, keep the pedals turning. The Assault turns up the Blue Ridge Parkway after the 80 mile mark at Marion, NC and gets difficult very quickly. There is a switchback section that precedes the climb to the Parkway where the riders behind you can be viewed below you. It’s tough. Once on the Parkway, 10 miles or so from the top, there is a place where you can stop, see where you have been and see the summit — the goal. What preceded is a mere speck, truly a long ways off, and the summit seems so close. Yet the most difficult part of the ride is yet to come and it can take a long time to reach, especially if you are not ready for a steep and gut wrenching climb.
The parallel to life is obvious. Do I need to say more? I feel right now like I am at that point where I can see where I have been, a long way behind me, and I can get a glimpse of where I am going. I know that in order to make it, it’s going to be accomplished one step, one pedal stroke at a time.
Today’s blog is an example of why one should not write the title before the blog.
By the way, I put my favorite pair of shoes on this morning in the dark. My left shoe had these funny hard white spots on them. What the heck? Where did they come from? In the light, I realized what happened. When I made the onion gravy for my pork chops last night, some of the flour/milk mix from the plastic container dripped on my shoes. Oops.